The Forced March Prayer

It was zero-dark-thirty and the entire base was seemingly up, prepping for a ‘Forced March.’  I’d been up a little while longer double checking my equipment, before having to head to the parade deck to start inspecting other’s rucks.

As I wrapped up third’s squads inspection, someone in the squad called for a prayer, asking me if I’d do the honors. I began with, “Lord hear our prayer…and ended it with, “If God be for me, who can be against me?”

Out of the darkness an anonymous voice boomed, “A pissed off Master Gunny.”

In unison, we all shouted, “Amen!”

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Caffeinated Death

This morning he raced to the kitchen as he thought his coffee maker was dying. As it gurgled the last of the water through it’s filter and grounds, it sounded as if it were choking.

The last time this happened, he mistook the sound for the toilet bowl tank refilling. He ignored it until it was too late — he had no coffee that day and he wasn’t about to repeat the situation again.

The lesson here, if there must be one, is to listen and never assume. You must react, you must respond — even if what you’re hearing sounds familiar.

Tribute to a Book-Case

Six-feet long, roughly built, thickly painted in a shiny brown enamel and filled with books from encyclopedias and The Harvard Classics to Reader’s Digest’s condensed books to every paperback Louis L’Amour and Agatha Christy ever published, that book-case captivated much of my childhood. It also formed my delight in reading and my desire to become a writer.

My favorite, by far is Louis L’Amour, and I spent many a rainy, windy winter’s day with my nose tucked inside one of his novels. His story-telling allowed me to escape and develop my imagination and hunger for adventure.


At the time though, I didn’t know this. Also, what I didn’t know or understand until some years after his death, was that my father was a story-teller from the old school, meaning that unlike L’amour, he didn’t write his tall-tales down, but rather, enjoyed spinning yarns over and over, until he, himself, believed the stories he was telling.

For years, especially following his passing, when family would gather, all his stories became ‘lies,’ which he did do, but some of the things he shared with his ‘gift for gab’ can be nothing more than the work of a truly gifted raconteur. Where, when or how he came to this skill, I will never know.


When I was nine or so, I saw a photograph of Louis L’Amour as a young man. I remember being struck by how much he and my Grandpa Jack Olivera looked-a-like.

This led me to create a fantasy that Grandpa Jack was, in reality, Louis L’Amour. Further, I fantasized that one day, when I was old enough to keep his secret, Grandpa Jack would tell me all about his life as a writer and we’d have something besides my mom in common.


Because this was a fantasy, I never told anyone, fearing I’d get called a liar and punished for it. But I did devise a way to get the fantasy out of my head and into the ‘light of day,’ and that was by writing it down in story-form.

Unfortunately, that original story has long been lost, tossed out by my mom after I joined the service along with many other stories I wrote as a child. When I began to write at the age of nine, I was certain that the world would one day benefit from whatever I wrote, so saving every written scrap of paper was nearly as important as the writing itself.

While I mourned the loss of those ‘original’s’ for years after, I’ve since concluded that they probably were no more than a narrative than a real story. I’ve also learned that when an original is lost, the rewrite is generally the better of the two.


By the time I entered middle school, I’d long outgrown the fantasy of my Grandpa Jack being Louis L’Amour. And later, when in high school, after being kicked out of the house by mom for ‘behaving like an animal,’, that old book-case became a very close friend and life-saver.

She moved me into the garage turned ‘rumpus room,’ where I poured through our ‘library,’ reading nearly everything on the shelves. I had already read the encyclopedia set after being grounded for the entire summer to my bedroom for bad behavior in grade school.

And from time-to-time a new L’Amour or Christy paperback would show up in the case, and I’d find a reason to disappear (Mom called it ‘being anti-social’ and worried that I might be doing drugs,) to the ‘rumpus room,’ to read and write. Back then, I had access to an old manual typewriter that Dad had brought home from work.


The typewriter was given to him and Dad rarely used it. Me, however, I not only banged out ‘copy’ for the high school newspaper and wrote book reports and essays on it, I used it to teach myself to write like a ‘real author.’

Putting ‘real author’ in quotes is my way of saying, that to claim the actual title would have been a ‘lie.’ I would’ve been accused of ‘living in a fantasy world,’ which would have been true, but it would have taken on an entirely negative connotation, not out of meanness, but out of frustration as I had spent a lot of time there as a child.


One of the first items I ever wrote was a small piece of poetry and while I didn’t fully appreciate the intellectual creativity of poetry, and still don’t, I had heard ‘cowboy poetry’ spoken (Bruce Kiskaddon is a favorite) and it sparked my imagination. Beside, it is rhyming words to tell a story – how hard could it be?

Ha! I look back on my rhymes and see no meter and where I wrote open-verse, I see no story and my tenses are all wrong. So yes, I learned and in that learning I found it’s much more difficult than simply using ‘say’ and ‘day’ to end the first and third sentences of a verse.


Mom in her naturally over-zealous reaction to my leaving home, decided it would be best to help my brother transition from sharing a bedroom, to being alone, by removing all of my stuff. Granted, I’d been banished from sleeping there, but I did have all my clothing and much of my writings in that room.

Fortunately, for me, I did have some notebooks, journals, and a number of stories tucked in a drawer in a large metal work desk that occupied the space beneath the window that looked out at the front yard. Later, when my folks’ marriage dissolved, Mom cleaned the house of nearly everything, either selling it or giving it away, including the desk, which she emptied.


What she couldn’t pawn off to others or make money from, she put in trash bags for yje Wednesday morning collection. Happily, for me, the garbage service had not been paid and our service was in default so I saved all that I could, and still have much of it to this day.

All of this returns to a central point in my life. If it hadn’t been for a bookshelf filled with books, childhood fantasies, an active imagination, some bad adolescent behavior, and actively writing night-after-night, for good or bad, I wouldn’t be writing today.

And finally — Debbie — if by any chance you’re reading this, sorry we had to listen to hours of angry lecturing from both sets of parents about ‘where babies come from.’

Easy-Peasy

We sat on the splintered floor, where the blast had tossed us, staring out the missing wall towards my neighbor’s house. “So surreal,” I recall myself thinking as Butch quipped, “You always wanted a picture window there, didn’t ya?”

“No. What I wanted was to get my new diesel generator hooked up to my home’s electrical system before the next winter storm,” I answered.

The night before we sat on bar stool’s across from each other. Me, bragging about how little I had paid for the 800-pound behemoth and Butch about being a master-electrician.

“It’s easy-peasy,” I recall him laughing.

I’m a Broken Clay Jar

Years ago I heard a sermon wherein the Preach describe every human being as a ‘cracked pot.’ Being a ‘trained’ theologian, I immediately thought of a broken Greek amphora jar, the tallish, oblong shaped vessel often used to carry water and wine in the ancient world.

That’s how I view myself – a broken amphora jar – one that I take to bed every night, that I wake up with every morning. Sometimes I can ‘put it back together,’ and get on with life.

Once it is together – not repaired, because it can never be repaired — it will hold because the external pressure is equal to the internal pressure. Those are the days that I am at my best.

These internal/external pressures are nothing like the ‘compartmentalizing’ I once was so good at in my youth. In fact, I learned to compartmentalize as a child, getting better at it as I got older until one day, like a series of dominoes, the walls holding all that stuff I had stowed away over a lifetime, toppled.

Since then, I’ve been unable to hide my real self from anyone, especially myself. Thus, everyday I struggle to put my jar back together and make it through, from one sunrise to the next.

Sometimes though, I can’t put it back together and no matter how much I try, I keep losing pieces of this jar until I am holding nothing more than shard on top of shard. These are also the days that I ask God for the most help getting it together – figuratively and literally.

Where is this coming from? I posted on my social media page about ‘life seeming hopeless.’ Evidently, I frightened a lot of my friends as they believed I was contemplating suicide.

Rest assured, nothing like that crossed my mind. I needed help and so I reached out the best way I knew and then getting involved in something else, I forgot about my posting and went to bed.

Anyhow…

Often I am in tune with my Creator and he guides my clumsy fingers and together we get the job done. Other time, I am a scrambled mess and cannot get beyond my own thoughts and feelings to listen and the jar never gets put back together for that day or longer.

On those days, I usually “fake it, till I make it.” Be of good cheer, because as we’re instructed, if God’s for us, who can stand against us…right?

Anyway, because I’m only a man, I cannot withstand the brokeness of myself as I sit around trying to pick up all the broken shard’s of my clay jar. Those are the days, I wanna run away, withdraw, hide from everyone, everything, myself.

Generally, I do exactly that. But recently it’s been brought to my attention that others might be suffering in silence, feeling and thinking the same as me – after all I’m not alone in this world.  So with that in my crowded head, I’ve had to force myself to admit that “I ain’t alright,” that I’m hurting, that my clay jar is fallen apart and I’m simply too tired to pick the pieces up, let alone haul them around.

After my posting, I awoke and read many more stories that are far worse than mine, having realized that I offered up a complaint, but came with no solution. I’m ashamed for having complained at the moment, humbled by the fact that others are struggling in ways I cannot image.

Maybe none of what I write makes sense, maybe it all makes perfect sense. I won’t know if you don’t say anything and you can’t know if I don’t say something.

Cut

If I cut myself now, would you feel the pain? No! I’d do it though — if it got your attention.

There are no pills for heartache, no bandages to heal an invisible gaping wound. The only option left then is ‘time’, and that doesn’t heal very fast and sometimes, it doesn’t heal at all.

It’s frightening to watch history repeat itself. The tear in the generations remains a bleeding wound despite the attempted repairs, so it’s better to focus the pain elsewhere.

Besides, you can’t understand my pain since we haven’t spoken to each other in such a long time.

The Smartest Woman on Earth

They came peacefully, seeking the meaning of life. “Please, bring us the smartest person on your planet.”

After much discussion between all the world leaders, they decided that the smartest was an American woman of great renown. She was then sent to speak with the space-travelers.

After a great ceremony celebrating the friendship between the two species, they asked the woman a single question, “In less than five words, tell us what you believe to be the meaning of life.”

The newly appointed ambassador thought about her bitterness, her loss of wealth and her husband before proclaiming, “I should’ve won.”